Breaking The Sound Barrier:

The Blackbird’s mounting collar, showing the nylon-tipped locking bolt and the adaptor disc to fit SME oval cutouts.

There’s a couple of other things that are worth a mention. You’ll notice that there’s no arm-rest. Instead, the Blackbird uses a magnetically captured parking position. Two magnetically tipped grub screws on the inner face of the mounting pillar ‘capture’ the arm when the counterweight box comes into contact with them as the arm is moved away from the record. Adjusting the two grub screws sets the angle at which the arm comes to rest, while a single grub screw located above the other two sets the resting height. Likewise, early versions of the arm had no lever operated cueing device. User feedback corrected that omission and a bracket has been added to the bias gantry that accepts the now ubiquitous Rega lift-lower device: simple and, above all, cost effective. As tempting as it is with a product that’s as distinct and inventive as this one, why reinvent the wheel as well?

One final thing might be causing confusion: the bit of string protruding from the top of the arm-tube just aft of the cartridge. This is actually the finger lift – and is partly responsible for that lack of a cueing device in the original design. This IS different and SupaTrac were so enamoured of it that a cueing lever was felt to be superfluous. They point out that the string lift provides a secure grip on the arm, while avoiding the risk of excessive down-force when cueing and any unwanted vibration or mechanical signature from the lift itself. For those who demand a conventional finger lift, one is supplied that bolts in place of the string lift, but I’d recommend trying the string-lift first: you might be surprised how well you get on with it, and understand SupaTrac’s enthusiasm for it.

In many ways this is the most interesting, ‘clean sheet of paper’ tonearm design to come my way since I first got my grubby hands on the ET II. It has gone back to basics and come up with its own set of solutions to the challenges presented by presenting a cartridge to a record groove. One of my favourite quotes comes from the Neville Shute novel Sliderule: “An engineer is a man who can do for ten-shillings what any fool can do for a pound.” If that were all that the Blackbird achieved, with its lateral thinking and clever use of materials, then it would be impressive enough. And here’s another: no lesser man than Albert Einstein declared that, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” The Blackbird is conceptually about as simple as it gets: maintaining that simplicity throughout the mechanical execution has demanded some considerable ingenuity and not a little inspiration. The fact that it’s taken three thousand words to describe both that conceptual simplicity and the details of its construction should indicate just how different almost every single aspect of this arm is. As I’ve already said, part two of this review will look at exactly what the Blackbird does in musical terms – and what that might tell us about more conventional arms. Meanwhile, rest assured that this arm definitely has something to say about the state of vinyl replay – AND what it costs!